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Microsoft is slipping app ads into Android menus

Microsoft is slipping app ads into Android menus

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Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

If you use a Microsoft app on your Android phone, Microsoft might be quietly advertising its other apps in your “Share” and “Open” menus. Android Police has pointed out that some Microsoft mobile apps add extra options to your menus when you interact with a file. These icons show Microsoft apps that aren’t on your phone, taking up real estate that’s usually reserved for programs you chose to install.

Android Police tested this with multiple Microsoft apps, and The Verge confirmed that it’s definitely happening with Your Phone Companion, an app for syncing Android and Windows devices. When I shared a photo from my phone with Your Phone Companion installed, my sharing menu included an extra icon labeled “Microsoft OneDrive (Install).” Tapping the icon would open Your Phone Companion, then quickly redirect me to the Google Play Store. Android Police found similar results when, say, opening a PowerPoint presentation file with Microsoft Word installed.

Microsoft’s OneDrive ad on a photo sharing menu
Microsoft OneDrive ad on a photo sharing menu.

The issue has apparently been around for at least a few months. Android Police said one user had submitted a tip about it in April, and Thurrott mentioned it back in February. But it’s hasn’t gotten widespread attention. As Android Police notes, Microsoft just launched a desktop notification feature that makes the Your Phone Companion app more useful.

These little ads aren’t a massive inconvenience. Many people who install one Microsoft app will have others installed already, so they’ll just see ordinary icons. As Android Police notes, many other people will almost never open PowerPoint or Excel files. Sharing photos is a far more common task, but I’ve already got dozens of never-used icons on my share screen, so I barely noticed one more.

Even so, Microsoft is setting a bad precedent here. If every app developer followed its lead, Android menus would be even more crowded and confusing than they are today. Fortunately, we haven’t seen another major company using this tactic. Android Police mentions that Android Q limits its effectiveness — so instead of seeing a misleading OneDrive icon, you’ll see the normal Your Phone Companion one.